Thank you. I am pleased to speak with you here at Fort Sill, at the foot of the ancient Wichita Mountains, surrounded by the last piece of tall grass prairie in this great state and the short grass prairies which dominate the landscape to the west and south of the Wichitas clear to the Red River. We meet in a uniquely rich and diverse part of the country, where the natural and cultural history are entwined.
It is always special for me to travel around the country. I try to learn something about the natural history of the places I visit as part of my own ongoing process of environmental education -- and at home I already have my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter in training! She already knows many of the items we recycle and loves to help carry them out to the curb every week.
At the Defense Department, there is a strong environmental ethic and a commitment to instilling this ethic not only in our work force, but in our children. We want to prepare them to take on the environmental challenges of their day, in defense of our threatened heritage.
I was here with Sen. [James M.] Inhofe just 10 months ago to help dedicate this fantastic new center where we meet today. It is a tremendous resource for our military and for people throughout the state of Oklahoma. I'm glad to see this building being put to such good use!
For the Defense Department, this center offers the environmental education and training we need to support military readiness. I want to congratulate the folks at Fort Sill for providing the highest quality environmental education and training our nation has to offer. This is what I would like to talk about today.
First, some background about defense and the environment. For Earth Day last year, Secretary of Defense William Cohen issued a proclamation which speaks to the importance of environmental protection to military activities. In it he says, "Defense Department involvement in our nation's environmental security is critical to the defense mission. Protecting the quality of life of our servicemen and women, their families and surrounding communities from environmental and safety hazards is paramount. Protecting and replenishing our country's natural resources ensures access to training grounds, a vital link to military readiness." With this statement, Secretary Cohen recognizes the importance of environmental protection to the military mission.
In fact, our current commitment to the environment builds on a long history of military interest in environmental protection. The famous Lewis and Clark expedition of the early 1800s began what has become an important tradition of training the "military naturalist," who, to this day, are conducting inventories of the plants and animals that occur on military lands. Indeed, Army Capts. Lewis and Clark were the first Anglo-Americans to begin recording and describing the flora and fauna of the American West.
Our environmental program has certainly evolved since the 1800s. Today, the focus of our efforts are on protecting people, equipment, facilities, and natural and cultural resources, all which are necessary to conduct the defense mission, and maintain the readiness of our troops.
This responsibility involves managing the natural areas under our stewardship, cleaning up sites that have been contaminated in the past, developing programs and technologies to prevent pollution from the outset, protecting the safety and health of people, and complying with the law. To accomplish this, environmental factors are now integrated into all defense activities -- everything from designing lead-free bullets to developing technologies for the first paintless aircraft, the Joint Strike Fighter (painting and depainting is the source of over 80 percent of our hazardous waste).
The environmental leadership right here is an excellent example. Ron Barnett, the environmental manager at Fort Sill, has designed a program that is proactive and aggressive. The pollution prevention initiatives are voluntary, and relationships with state and federal regulators, as well as the community, are strong and built on mutual trust. These efforts save the department money and advance the mission objectives at Fort Sill. Let me cite some examples:
- When I was here last spring, I saw the central washing facilities for heavy vehicles, which now use a self-contained system that filters out contaminants and reuses water. The system cuts labor costs, eliminates hazardous waste discharges into the waters of the state and reduces water use.
- The blackcapped vireo, a federally endangered species, thrives on the ranges at Fort Sill, without interfering with training.
Indeed, through our commitment and innovative stewardship, DoD lands have become islands of nature, and are home to over 200 federally endangered species. These lands provide opportunities for recreation and environmental education for DoD personnel, their families and Americans across the country.
It is programs such as the ones right here that have helped the department gain a reputation as one the most diverse and successful environmental programs in the world.
Environmental education and training is a critical link to meeting our environmental objectives. This center is an integral part of achieving our environmental education and training goals. Our program has five parts.
- First, environmental education is provided to all DoD employees worldwide from the newest recruit to the most senior general.
- Second, training courses are available to all our environmental professionals. Last year, this center alone taught over 8,000 people in everything from emergency spill response and hazardous materials management, to water quality sampling and ecosystems management techniques.
- Third, we have a special program to educate what we call our "acquisition" work force. This is particularly important because much of our hazardous waste is created in the acquisition process, where tanks, airplanes, ships, weapons and other equipment are designed, built and purchased.
- Fourth, environmental education is offered at the department's senior military leadership schools. We are preparing future generals and admirals, not only to make sure they can manage hazardous materials, but to think about where and under what circumstances environmental factors contribute to conflict and instability, and how to protect troops and the environment during military operations. Gen. [Anthony C.] Zinni, commander in chief of the Central Command, who will command our troops should we be forced to take military action against Iraq, is one of the most knowledgeable generals on how environmental factors are important in military operations. Last year, he gave the keynote address at DoD's annual environmental conference.
- Lastly, and of particular interest to this audience, the defense environmental community has a strong commitment to sharing our environmental expertise with people who live in communities surrounding installations. Almost all installations have a wide range of environmental education facilities and programs. Most have strong programs to work with students, on base, and in the classroom.
You will hear about some of the initiatives Fort Sill has to offer throughout the day, so let me tell you about a rival program. At Camp Ripley in Minnesota, high school students shadow Army researchers as they monitor timber wolf populations. Students follow our scientists, helping to record and analyze data. This environmental education program also includes bald eagle monitoring, groundwater monitoring, land restoration and photography, to name just a few.
This kind of program is repeated across the country, and I am very proud that we are working with communities to leverage our resources and expertise as an investment in our children and our nation's security.
In fact, just this week we have established a new initiative that will enable our installation environmental and outreach personnel to work with teachers, students and local organizations to learn about, and have an actual hand in, improving water quality.
The program, called "Streamside Forests: Lifelines to Clean Water," is designed to help children learn about protecting water resources by working with installation staff to restore a streamside in their community. Small grants to purchase native plants will be available where restoration projects have been designed in partnership with installations and a local school or civic organization.
Information on this program, including talking points on the importance of riparian ecosystems to water quality, a program "how-to" guide and a grant application, will be posted on the Internet in the next few weeks. Several riparian restoration projects are already slated for completion this year. These will involve removing invasive weeds, planting native species and controlling erosion. I hope some of you will want to join forces with us to restore portions of the rivers and creeks in Oklahoma. The historic Medicine Creek is a stone's throw away!
On Earth Day this year, I will highlight and acknowledge the various projects we have under way around the country. Strengthening our nation's efforts to protect and restore water resources is a top Clinton administration environmental priority for 1998 and a unique opportunity for DoD to put the spotlight on our outstanding leadership and teamwork in this area.
Before passing the baton, I would like to note that Sen. Inhofe has been a strong supporter of cost-effective environmental protection for the military. He recognizes that environmental issues impact quality of life, military training and how we operate military facilities. I also appreciate that he is enabling me to see much of Oklahoma's natural beauty today in our travels from Oklahoma City to Lawton to Altus Air Force Base.
In closing I would just like to re-emphasize that there are all sorts of great opportunities for environmental educators to collaborate with us. We hope you will work with us, and encourage your students and their families to do the same. Thank you.
Published by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission.